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First Look at King Kong The Musical

June 1, 2013

Melbourne Dance, theatre, stage, ballet, circus, performance,portfolio, dancer, dancers

The Melbourne production of King Kong is being hailed as a landmark theatrical event, but does it live up to the hype?

Officially opening next month at the Regent Theatre, and likely to head directly to New York after completing an extended season in Melbourne, this multi-million epic production is expected to rake in millions in tourist dollars.

Based on the novel of the original 1933 screenplay, the timing of the stage show concides with the 80th anniversary of the original Merian C. Cooper King Kong movie.

Last night The Gutter Trash went along to the capacity crowd preview at the Regent Theatre to see what all the fuss is about.

Firstly there can be no denying that King Kong The Musical is visually spectacular.

The principal cast features Esther Hannaford (Hairspray) as Ann Darrow, newcomer Adam Lyon as Carl Denham, Chris Ryan (Thyestes) as Jack Driscoll, veteran stage actor Richard Piper as Captain Engelhorn and the queen of musical theatre and cabaret, Queenie van de Zandt as Cassandra.

The story follows the tale of down-on-her-luck Ann Darrow who is persuaded by dubious movie producer Carl Denham to travel to the mysterious Skull Island where rumours of Kong’s existence promise to resurrect Denham’s fledgling movie career.

From its relatively humble beginnings with Denham rescuing Darrow from police arrest for stealing an apple in a street-side scene that resembles 1930’s depression era New York, the action quickly ramps up into an all-sing all-dancing routine with dancing girls (and boys) that could’ve been lifted straight out of A Chorus Line.

I was cringing at this point, quietly hoping that this wasn’t going to set the scene for the rest of the musical performances.

Fortunately, I wasn’t disappointed. From here Darrow and Denham set sail to Skull Island with a triangular shaped platform rising from the stage mimicking the ship’s bow gently rocking from side-to-side on the ocean swell.  A computerised backdrop provides a visual wallpaper for changing scenes throughout the show.

The ship’s arrival at Skull Island is one of the most stunning set-pieces in the production.  The stage is transformed into a techno-jungle with pounding drums and a sense of foreboding as mysterious creatures descend from the night sky culminating in a voodoo ritual that features a legion of native dancers who appear to be almost computer generated. It’s a dazzling extravaganza in sight and sound.

Darrow is captured by the natives and offered up to Kong as a ritual sacrifice.  The rest of the story, as they say is history, with romantic connection Chris Ryan dutifully rescuing Darrow from Kong’s lair and the devious Denham kidnapping Kong for The Greatest Show on Earth in New York.

The real star of the show is Kong himself, and the 6 metre, 1.5 tonne puppet doesn’t disappoint.

The puppet requires a team of athletic on-stage manipulators called “the king’s men” while a 30-tonne rig in the gantry controls the marionette. “Voodoo operators” in a black box at the back of the auditorium control the puppet’s facial animatronics.

Everything is vast about this production, from the cast and crew of 126, to the 300 metres of electronic cable used in the puppet itself.

However, despite all the spectacular visuals, impressive set pieces and carefully choreographed dance routines, King Kong is a show that doesn’t really connect with the audience.

The actors perform their roles as caricatures; Denman the greedy conman, Darrow the dumb blond and Driscoll the dashing hero.  The characters really don’t develop at all and it’s difficult to feel any sense of emotional connection with what they’re going through.

Sometimes it’s difficult to even hear what they are saying, or singing, so this doesn’t help.

We all know the fate that awaits Kong and while the beginning of the end is staged with great dramatic effect, ultimately it’s hard to feel sorry for a 20 foot puppet.

King Kong The Musical probably seemed like a good idea in a boardroom somewhere, and there’s no denying that it is a visual feast with groundbreaking technology in light and  sound.

For that alone, it’s worth the price of admission.  But I couldn’t help walking away feeling a bit empty.

I didn’t feel that this incarnation offered anything new, other than some unwelcome naffness of dancing girls singing “Come on Get Happy” as Kong breaks free from his shackles in New York. WTF was all that about?

One can’t help thinking that the producers clearly have a US market in mind.



60 Comments leave one →
  1. June 1, 2013 11:05 am

    BTW, there was no standing ovation…

    If you’re planning on going I would recommend buying tickets in the stalls…

    We had excellent seats in the dress circle (where you could see everything) but I think the impact of KOng might be greater if you’re watching from ground level (just sayin’)…

  2. armchair opinionator permalink
    June 1, 2013 1:21 pm

    However, despite all the spectacular visuals, impressive set pieces and carefully choreographed dance routines, King Kong is a show that doesn’t really connect with the audience.

    I was right there with you until then reb, what a shame that the show went for special effects but sacrificed the story, wonder why they couldn’t do both? Do you think that in this age of computer games and graphics, they thought that was where the sales would be, that the audience wouldn’t really care too much about the story?

    I also wonder why we have re-makes of everything all the time. I don’t know about you but I’ve never quite understood the appeal of The Great Gatsby or it worthy of being made numerous times. Surely there’s some original stuff around, I think that you could have a good go at a screenplay yourself!

  3. June 1, 2013 4:31 pm

    “Do you think that in this age of computer games and graphics, they thought that was where the sales would be, that the audience wouldn’t really care too much about the story?”

    Perhaps KL… It was like going to see a blockbuster movie only it was on a stage..

    Or maybe I’m just difficult to please.. It wasn’t really an emotional experience for me as say “Billy Elliott” was. I was lost for words during the intermission of Billy Elliott. It was just so incredibly moving, and I guess in part because there were a lot of similarities to my own upbringing.

    In saying that I’m sure there will be plenty of people who will be blown away by the spectacle of King Kong, which is perfectly fine of course, it’s just that aside from that, it didn’t really offer anything else.

    BTW, have you been watching the BBC Comedy “Getting On” (with Jo Brand)? It’s hilarious!! Vey dry humour about the “office politics” of staff and nurses working in a hospital.

    I think you’d love it! Very dry sense of humour…

  4. TB Queensland permalink
    June 1, 2013 5:38 pm

    Your description fits just about every live stage show I’ve seen bar one … not a fan of them … much prefer films …

    How come live gets more review time than film anyway 😉

  5. June 1, 2013 6:06 pm

    l wonder how many 13-year-olds Kong got security to toss out.

  6. June 1, 2013 6:08 pm

    ” The real star of the show is Kong himself, and the 6 metre, 1.5 tonne puppet doesn’t disappoint. “
    So, Kong`s a Teabag.

  7. highside permalink
    June 4, 2013 11:11 pm

    I just returned from a Preview show tonight and agree with you – bang on! Visually Spectacular , the screen and light show and Kong were absolutely amazing. However there was absolutely no connection between the audience and characters. This could be felt at the end of the show by the lack of applause , no one standing up. Also the music baffled me , I didn’t realise drum n bass and electrica existed in 1930………………….

  8. Michael permalink
    June 4, 2013 11:56 pm

    I just got back from a preview show. The Kong puppet was most definitely impressive – I was absolutely stunned when he first appeared. But I found the show as a whole to be quite flat and kind of tacky. Many of the songs felt almost like tunes from a Disney cartoon with some often cringeworthy lyrics.

    Perhaps when they were putting the show together they wanted to race straight through to seeing Kong himself before too long. As a result the show suffered because it skipped setting up the characters and the story. I felt disconnected to everyone from start to finish. I would have much preferred to take the time to settle in and delay seeing King Kong than to be raced through to watch a puppet – and while the puppet was truly spectacular, you cannot expect it to carry an entire show.

  9. June 5, 2013 7:40 am

    Hi highside and Michael,

    I agree with both your observations there..

    There was no standing ovation at the show I attended too. It’ll be interesting to see how “the real” season goes when it officially opens later this month.

  10. TB Queensland permalink
    June 5, 2013 9:20 am

    It’ll be interesting to see how “the real” season goes when it officially opens later this month.

    Well, we do know that TDT is now a recognised source of intelligent and informed information for the wider media, so maybe they will take note of the reviews offered here …

    Noice to see new faces too … h/s & M 🙂

  11. June 5, 2013 5:21 pm

    JCSS was epic!

    Way better than King Krap.

    Even had that little gameshow freak,Deal or No Deal’s, Andrew O’Keefe, as King Herod. Hilarious.

    For me, the jury’s still out on whether or not ‘modernising’ the production was a good idea. I reckon, by tying in the occupy movement & other bits of zeitgeist rubbish, they may have overplayed their hand.
    The jeebus got crucified in Gitmo overalls, FFS!

    Still, the music & the message is timeless.

    I rate it 4 out of 5 fullsacks… even if we did get the understudy Jeebus.

    * honourable mentions for Jon Stevens, Tim Minchin, Sporty Spice & the black dude with the baritone who played Kaiafus(?).

  12. June 5, 2013 5:40 pm


  13. IPAddress permalink
    June 5, 2013 5:46 pm

    From toietjeebus’s link: “It is impossible not to draw comparisons between this Roman Empire and today’s US government, between Jesus and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Christ’s followers and anti-G8 protesters, or his execution and Guantánamo Bay.”

    Who is Patrick McDonald and is he effing serious? Freaking leftist copybook crap.

  14. June 5, 2013 6:03 pm

    I agree, PIA.

    I said as much.

    I prefer the ‘old’ version.

    There wasn’t an Assange to be seen.

    I daresay that Patrick is a staff writer for AdelaideNow(?) who went to last night’s performance.
    A fair bit of artistic license in his ‘interpretive’ review, methinks.

    My youngster (who is recently a teenager, that I probably shouldn’t think of as a youngster anymore) got a bit confused because she is very familiar with the 70’s version. Didn’t ‘get’ why the Romans were wearing suits & their soldiers were riot police!
    The little gameshow freak even threw in a barb at Gina Rinehart!

    I note, my daughter is healthily apolitical. I do NOT indoctrinate her in any way.

    You’d probably call it social marxism, or whtever it was you used to fetish over (joking…the same thing actually occurred to me as I was watching it).

    So many confoundities! Me, the atheist deathmetalhead, loving a musical about the jeebus (!) …but somewhat concerned by its modern evolution into awkward leftist crud.

    (the show was great, fwiw)

  15. June 5, 2013 6:06 pm

    If you wanna go & get all righteously conservative-indignant, go see it soon when it comes to Melbourne.
    It’s the only time in your life that you’ll get to see Jesus. 😆

  16. TB Queensland permalink
    June 5, 2013 6:13 pm

    Thank Christ its only going into Mexico … 🙄

    QUEENSLANDERS!prefer realit entertainment … The State of Oranges is on TONIGHT!

    I feel sad already for the Not Serious Welshmen … not! 😆


  17. June 5, 2013 6:14 pm


  18. June 5, 2013 6:15 pm

    “It’s the only time in your life that you’ll get to see Jesus..”

    I think I’ll pass. I can’t stand any sort of christian-related shite, even if it is a musical…

    Wasn’t rock music meant to be “the music of the devil….?”

    That’s what these so-called “chtistian” fucktard friends of my parents told me when I was a teenager..

    It makes me sick. Everything about teh christians… They’re fkn w@nkers. The lot of them..

    Just sayin’…

  19. June 5, 2013 6:15 pm

    My favourite bit, from the old version…

  20. IPAddress permalink
    June 5, 2013 6:17 pm

    “go see it soon when it comes to Melbourne”

    I might just do that.

    Nothing worth watching on TV tonight, then. 😯

  21. June 5, 2013 6:18 pm

    And, from the ‘new’ version…

  22. IPAddress permalink
    June 5, 2013 6:21 pm

    “even if it is a musical…”

    Yes, I thought “you people” were supposed to like musicals. 😀

  23. June 5, 2013 6:22 pm

    It’s worth a look, seriously. Especially if you’re familiar with the music.

    I got sublimated with it as a toddler as my parents saw the original arena version in Adelaide in the 70’s. They still have the vinyl & original programe. Sad old bastards. haha . I actually went with Mum & my wife & daughter; very cool.

    You may see it as an exercise in uncovering Social Marxist Demonology. 😉

  24. egg permalink
    June 5, 2013 6:26 pm

    I went to the original after party of JC Superstar at Kings Cross and Harry M glowered at me for gate crashing.

    Fuck him, I looked like cast.

  25. June 5, 2013 6:28 pm

    My redeeming feature is that I’m going to see Cattle Decapitation next week!

    None of ‘you people’ will be there.

    I am a paradox of free thought.

  26. IPAddress permalink
    June 5, 2013 6:28 pm

    Cultural Marxism. 😉

  27. June 5, 2013 6:29 pm

    lol @ el gordo!

    Did you enjoy it?

    I think Jon Stevens was Judas last time? This time he is Pontius Pilate. Done a few roids too, in his twilight years. 😯

  28. June 5, 2013 6:30 pm

    Cultural Marxism, that’s the one!

    Creeping infiltration. Never more apparent. Go see it & be afraid. 🙂

  29. June 5, 2013 6:32 pm

    “I’m going to see Cattle Decapitation next week!”

    I’m hoping that that’s the name of a band. 😯

  30. June 5, 2013 6:33 pm

    “It makes me sick. Everything about teh christians… They’re fkn w@nkers. The lot of them..”

    Trust me, reb, we’re on the same page.

    It really isn’t like that.

    It tends to be more of a longrunning ode to Judas than an exaltation of christ. Seriously.

    On a brighter note. The false messiah gets killed near the end!

  31. June 5, 2013 6:35 pm

    “I thought “you people” were supposed to like musicals.”

    I’m not a big fan. I liked Billy Elliott and Madame Butterfly though..

    Miss Saigon is shite though (same story as M Butterfly, just set in Vietnam rather than Japan).

  32. June 5, 2013 6:36 pm

    It is the name of the band, haha.

    The other band is Thy Art Is Murder. An Australian deathcore act.

    Cattle are actually vegans who snarl about human filth & sort of turn people into the lowest rung of the foodchain. As fucked up as it sounds…but, World Class Brutality , as far as goregrind goes.

    And I just can’t seem to find Molly…

  33. June 5, 2013 6:36 pm

    “The false messiah gets killed near the end!”

    Oh, it’s beginning to sound quite appealing now… Is it a slow and painful death…??

  34. June 5, 2013 6:38 pm

    I think actual cattle, having worked with them over many years, are pretty nice, ponderous beasts. It’s a shame that we have to devour them; but they taste sooooo good! .

    I would never want to see the lurid decapitation of a living animal.

  35. June 5, 2013 6:39 pm

    Is it a slow and painful death…??


    Then his betrayer comes back & gloats around him, surrounded by many angels doing stripper moves in burlesque angel outfits!

    I shit you not!

  36. June 5, 2013 6:40 pm

    I have no doubt that if the jeebus existed he was probably a real cool guy, but the son of dog? Give me a fkn break… 🙄

  37. June 5, 2013 6:41 pm

    “stripper moves in burlesque angel outfits”


  38. June 5, 2013 6:41 pm

    It definitely, strangely (for a xtian) glorifies & empathises with Judas more than the jeebus.

    It’s in no way a traditional bible interpretation.

    Sporty Spice is Mary Magdalene, the prostitute, who is trying to fondle the jeebus throughout the whole (until he’s a carcass). He almost reciprocates.

  39. egg permalink
    June 5, 2013 6:44 pm

    ‘Did you enjoy it?’

    Most amusing, but I didn’t know anyone so I cleared out after a few drinks.

  40. June 5, 2013 6:45 pm

    I have no doubt that if the jeebus existed he was probably a real cool guy, but the son of dog? Give me a fkn break…

    Amen, to that.

    It takes a special kind of naivete to swallow the fables.

    Personally, I have no more evidence in front of me that jeebus existed than Ghengis Khan; probably less.

    The son of god doesn’t even bear consideration. Even if the man existed. He’s not the only person to have a social conscience.

  41. IPAddress permalink
    June 5, 2013 6:45 pm

    Some talking heads on radio today were trying to get some US rapper banned from coming to Australia. Apparently one of his songs mentions raping a pregnant woman and calling it a threesome. Pretty crude stuff, but lyrics in a song are as likely to incite someone to carry out such an act (which is what they were arguing) as the plot line in a movie. Perhaps the answer is the same: age group rating.

  42. June 5, 2013 6:51 pm

    “Perhaps the answer is the same: age group rating.”

    That is the only answer!

    Prohibition never works! It only brings notoriety to that which its haterz would see extinguished.

    If you accidentally read most of the lyrics to the music I enjoy, you’d probably want me hobbled & the bands that made it burned at the stake. It’s genuinely nasty stuff. But, It’s tongue in cheek & I see it as genre specific; just like a horror movie or a book by Richard Laymon.

    Fuck censors. If they don’t like it, they can fuck right off & watch/listen/read something else. I am an adult, quite capable of doing my own filtering. Noone ever said that stuff is for children.

  43. June 5, 2013 6:53 pm

    Jeebus was probably the Adam Hills of today’s generation. A fun guy to have around at parties and that kind of thing… Maybe enjoyed a drink and the odd toke, and probably a good story teller too, but beyond that…?

    We do have to keep in mind that there wasn’t a lot else to do back in those days before the interwebs and TV and such, so a good storyteller was probably a good person to have around..

    How did things get so fucked up beyond that though…?

    As Kittylitter said the other day, the Catholic Church is really just the mafia in pretend respectable garb.

  44. IPAddress permalink
    June 5, 2013 6:57 pm

    “But, It’s tongue in cheek & I see it as genre specific”

    Agree. Most of these controversial rappers and – I’d hazard a guess – most death metal bands are preforming “in character”. Most are not actually psychopaths.

  45. June 5, 2013 7:05 pm

    The one’s I’m familiar with, IPA, and that’s most of em, are very mellow; not at all violent.

    Are people afraid of Stephen King? Sam Raimi?

    The world isn’t all butterflies & dandelions…& not everyone wants to be entertained with syrupy, feelgood shit.

  46. June 5, 2013 7:19 pm

    “not everyone wants to be entertained with syrupy, feelgood shit.”


    I for one, absolutely loath so-called “romantic comedies”…

    If they were all hacked to death with some chainsaw wielding serial killers at the end though I might be able to sit through some of it…

  47. June 5, 2013 7:52 pm


    Me too.

    I don’t do romantic comedies!

  48. egg permalink
    June 5, 2013 8:04 pm

    I crave serious science fiction, but there isn’t much about.

    Romantic comedies are for girls.

  49. June 5, 2013 8:08 pm

    Upon further reflection, I have decided to review my review within the confines of my usual “ultra-brief” reviews:

    “King Kong The Musical” ( as reviewed by reb )

    A big monkey-puppet dies.

    The End.

  50. egg permalink
    June 5, 2013 8:25 pm

    On a slightly different note, Magazine Wars on ABC has cast Nene King too slim.

    According to my business partner, who worked under her during those tumultuous years, “if she danced on the table it would have collapsed.”

    Just sayin…

  51. June 5, 2013 8:31 pm

    As for good, serious sci-fi.

    I recently watched Moon, after reading a recomendation here (from, reb, I think).

    It was tres cool.

  52. June 5, 2013 8:39 pm

    “It was tres cool.”

    Good to hear boss..

    I watched it again in the weekend too…

    I noticed that the first thing that appears on the screen is “Where Are We Now”

    Coincidentally the very same title of DB’s recent single…

    Coincidence I think not…

  53. Liz from North Fitzroy permalink
    June 11, 2013 7:36 pm

    My boyfriend surprised me with tickets to the show on Saturday night. He is such a sweet heart. It was an amazing show but I kind of agree with what other people have said. Some parts are really loud and some parts are to quite.

  54. Can't Cope With Your Incongruance permalink
    June 16, 2013 12:58 am

    You say in one par that You weren’t disappointed and then a few pars later that it fails to connect with the audience. That is contradictory and fails to construct a proper argument. If you want to offer critical analysis you should begin with an understanding of critical thought.
    Secondly, you reviewed a preview. Do you think that is fair to anyone to offer you opinions on a product before it is ready for its audience. It would be like doing a restaurant review before your meal is cooked.
    For the record, I thought the show was diabolical and agree with most of what you are trying to put across here.
    You just put it across poorly.

  55. June 16, 2013 8:49 am

    “You say in one par that You weren’t disappointed and then a few pars later that it fails to connect with the audience. “

    I said that I enjoyed the special effects but there was no emotional connection with the audience.

    It’s really not that difficult a concept to understand… 🙄

  56. Edwin permalink
    June 16, 2013 10:47 am

    King Kong – Crap!!!
    No story line
    Clarity of people’s voices lost
    People next to me left after first act, people distracted ( going to toilet, on iPhones).
    I was thinking I don’t like it and was relieved when my friend who goes to every musical in town agreed. He even had a sleep.
    The worst $75 spent – the shampaign and bag of Swiss products was my highlight!

  57. Tom of Melbourne permalink
    June 16, 2013 10:59 am


    Catching Up is doing theatre reviews?

  58. TB Queensland permalink
    June 16, 2013 11:53 am

    CCWYI … sounds a bit picky … obviously playing on the wrong blog after i read this … If you want to offer critical analysis you should begin with an understanding of critical thought. 😆

    people distracted ( going to toilet, on iPhones). 😯

    Yuk! In public! (I can understand why people would do that but was the show so bad?)

    shampaign 🙂 Luv it!

  59. Edwin permalink
    June 16, 2013 12:23 pm

    To me the show was that bad: left deflated after the hype.
    I love the bit about critical analysis – seriously – I didn’t go to the show to over analyse. Infact I was quite excited to go and I just wanted to be entertainment. However I was bored!
    A mark of a good musical I feel is you don’t have to try, your just transported into a world that makes you think and feel.

  60. egg permalink
    June 17, 2013 5:41 pm

    ‘And King Kong the musical, confused both musically and narratively – packed full of ambition and innovation, but unable to pull its constituent parts into one satisfying whole.’

    Vicky Frost / Guardian

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